Basilica of the Holy Blood

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by kjlouden on December 14, 2002

All the "pilgrims" in the Basilica seemed totally unconfused. We had all come to see the precious sweat of builders, artisans, and artists, the work of wood carvers, metal smiths, and workers in stained glass. The entire city is so beautiful, anything to get the faithful of the Middle Ages to journey to Bruges to behold what human industry could achieve! Perchance they would buy some lace or a tapestry. If they viewed the Holy Blood, they would still see great craftsmanship.

So much wealth to see here! A small museum room contains the most exquisite, most valuable masterpiece by Jan Crabbe, a 17th century metal smith. The Shrine of the Holy Blood is crafted of gold and silver and encrusted with precious stones. Spectacular! I wondered if all that gold was paid for with tithes or entrance fees. The guide knew only that the church was benevolent to preserve all this for us. (He hadn’t read the English novels about the greed and hypocrisy of the early clergy.) I didn’t ask him if he knew what happened to the Rembrandts the Anglican church confiscated from the artist’s home. No need, for all the art in this church depicted holy subjects. I wondered if these masters wanted to paint the middle class, perhaps a little girl with watering can.

Another interesting piece is the carved wooden pulpit hanging on high. It is a magnificent globe from one piece of wood, the shape symbolizing that the Word must spread across the globe. I reflected, "How presumptive!" The hood or roof had atop it a representation of Holy Authority--just to make sure no skeptic in the congregation could mistake the priest for "just a man." I was reminded of the medieval morality plays stressing the quasi-divinity of priests, God’s representatives, not to be questioned--especially about the wealth they enjoyed while preaching the virtues of poverty and tithing!

There was much more, including two altars, one of The Last Supper in alabaster, another of marble set in carved wood. Good advice is to sit near the chapel. appreciate the symmetry, and find something to study that means something to you according to your background. We were told not to take photos by the fellow who wanted to sing the praises of the early church, so I spent $8 euro on the book All Brugge.

Basilica of the Holy Blood
Bruges, Belgium

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